Spring Training is in full bloom and the New York Yankees are looking to grow upon the success they had in the 2018 season. When you win 100 games it may seem hard to improve much but the Yankees have some areas that can really give them a boost if they can do better in 2019. Towards the top of that list is their infield.
The Yankees infield provided a big boost to their lineup last year with a lot of new names including Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, and Luke Voit. But for as good as it was it still comes with a lot of question marks going in to the new season that will be important to answer if they’re going to be a better team this year.
Didi Gregorius, a mainstay in their infield, is out for the majority of the year which caused them to go out and sign players like Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu. Miguel Andujar was an offensive powerhouse last year but his defense was suspect and his improvement there is key for the team. Then there’s first base which has been a question ever since Mark Teixeira retired. Luke Voit emerged as a spark in the offense last season but was he a flash in the pan or a rock in lineup? All of these scenarios will play out over the course of the next month and the Yankees will hope to find the answers.
We’ll take a look at the Yankees infield options and players to watch going in to spring training:
Andujar seized his opportunity last season after Brandon Drury got injured and he got called up. He started hitting almost immediately and never gave up his starting job again. He finished the season with a .297 average with 27 homeruns, 92 RBIs, and an incredible 76 extra-base hits. It’s hard to argue with those offensive stats but where the criticism comes in for Andujar is his defense.
He committed 15 errors which isn’t horrible but where his defects show is when he doesn’t touch the ball. Andujar’s range doesn’t seem to be more than a few steps either way and with Gregorius out for a while that might end up being a big deal to start the season. The days that Tulowitzki plays shortstop will cause a lot of range issues on the left side and a lot balls will get through the hole.
That being said the Yankees took a leap of faith with Andujar in not throwing a ton of cash at Manny Machado and not trading him at some point this offseason. Reports are that he has spent a ton of time working on his defense and the Yankees have been extremely impressed with his work ethic and progress on the field. Just how much he improved will be on display soon and something to watch once the spring games start.
The Yankees surprised a lot of people when they made the splash of signing Tulowitzki. He has only played 66 games in the last two seasons including missing the entirety of last year. His offensive output after going to Toronto from Colorado took a dive and the question always arises of how much Coors field helped his stats.
The Yankees are hoping Tulowitzki can play a big role replacing Didi Gregorius but the thoughts remain if he can stay healthy for a full season, does he still have enough defensively to man the most demanding position in the infield, and will he put up enough numbers offensively to help patch the hole left by Gregorius’ bat.
The Yankees were very impressed with Tulo’s condition when they watched his workouts in the winter and believe his bat will produce enough homeruns to put up good numbers in the lineup. Chances are he will get his fair share of days off during the year so that may help him stay fresh and healthy. When the games start it should be evident what version of Tulowitzki the Yankees will be getting.
Everyone expected the Yankees to sign some infield help this offseason but it was kind of a surprise that help came in the form of LeMahieu. He has been a solid player throughout his career but with the versatility of players like Josh Harrison and Marwin Gonzalez on the market, LeMahieu seemed like less of a fit because he was predominantly a second baseman. That being said, he is one of the best defensive second baseman in the league.
The Yankees have said they expect to move LeMahieu around the diamond as a utility type but it will remain to be seen how up to the task he is. The biggest hurdle for him will be how well he handles some first base action.
Offensively you can see why the Yankees liked him. He has a swing they covet in right handed hitters. He lets the ball travel deep in the zone which allows him to take the ball to the opposite field with some authority. This will also allow him to hit more home runs at Yankee stadium. The Yankees seemed to have gravitated towards these types of hitters because they can utilized the short porch in right but also as a right handed hitter have the ability to use the left side of the outfield as well.
What will be the question for LeMahieu is how much will leaving Coors Field hurt him. Historically players who did well in Colorado take a hit when they leave the Rockies. LeMahieu won a batting title with them but his last two years have been pretty average. That was also accompanied with bad offensive numbers on the road. That doesn’t bode well for him but the Yankees think otherwise.
Torres might be the player with the least amount of questions in the infield this season. He had an incredible rookie season hitting .271 with 24 homeruns and 77 RBIs. What was most impressive with Torres was hit hitting with runners in scoring positing. With RISP he hit .308 with 9 homeruns and 57 RBIs.
Torres will bounce between shortstop and second base this season and will try to build on what was a great first season in the big. His biggest challenge for 2019 will be to continue getting comfortable at second base which is a fairly new position for him. His lack of experience there led to some errors for him but the Yankees no doubt expect big things from Torres in 2019.
Voit turned himself into one of the biggest stories of the 2018 season for the Yankees. He was a midseason acquisition from the St. Louis Cardinals and nobody really thought anything of it. He never fully received an opportunity with the Cardinals and when he got it with the Yankees he cashed in.
At a position the Yankees has been weak for the Yankees since Teixeira retired, Voit came up after being traded and sparked the entire lineup. In 47 games he hit a robust .322 with 15 homeruns and 36 RBIs. He carried the lineup through some games and possibly more important his big personality brought some life to the team.
Voit was a bit average defensively but the Yankees will live with that if he’s putting up that kind of production. The big question for him is was it real or was it fantasy? He was an under the radar type of player and he still has a lot to prove going in to the new season to show that what he did last year was legit.
He’ll come into the spring with a leg up on his main competition, Greg Bird, but the spot isn’t quite guaranteed to him yet.
Bird is the first baseman the Yankees envisioned in the middle of their lineup for years to come but thus far his health has kept him from that. When he’s going right he has the type of bat that can carry the team for an extended period of time and he’s a good defensive first baseman. The problem is he’s had three cracks at the job and he hasn’t been able to keep himself on the field to show he can do it.
Bird has a knack for having a big spring training so it’s very possible he beats out Voit to start the year as the everyday first baseman but it is for sure an uphill battle for him.
If he doesn’t win the job, expect Bird to open the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to get regular at bats and be ready in case he’s called in to duty.
As mentioned earlier Gregorius will miss the majority of the season due to his offseason Tommy John surgery. His absence will be a blow to the Yankees in the middle of the lineup and with his incredible defense. He could be back as early as June and as late as August.
What to watch for with Gregorius when he returns is if he’s the same player as when he left. The Yankees have a big decision on whether or not to sign him to an extension and how he rebounds from the surgery is going to play a major role in that.
Other names to watch:
Tyler Wade – A player who has had his share of opportunities and hasn’t impressed at the big league level to this point. He has a great glove defensively, can move around the field at multiple positions, and has very good speed. Wade has a shot to make the roster as the final bench spot but he’ll have to produce in the spring to grab the job.
Thairo Estrada – Estrada is on the 40-man roster but it’s very unlikely he breaks camp with the Yankees. He missed the majority of last seasons with various injuries including a gunshot wound he suffered in his hip. He’ll be looking to use this next season to get his development back on track.
Mike Ford – A first baseman with very good power. Chances are he’ll only get a call up if injuries happen at the big league level in an emergency situation. If he finds himself with regular playing time in New York they’ll most likely also be trying to acquire an upgrade.
Kyle Holder – A very good infield prospect in the Yankees organization. He was invited to get his first taste of big league experience but he’ll spend his season between Double-A and Triple-A continuing his development.
Gio Urshella – Former Indians’ prospect that the Yankees will stash in Triple-A for the season for emergency purposes only. He’s the Shane Robinson of 2019.